Single parent families need support more than ever after a tough year
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Green city councillor and single parent Ash Haynes says looking after a child alone is hard enough without facing wider discrimination
Last week, Norwich City Council supported a motion to make single parenthood a protected characteristic, supporting the Single Parents’ Rights campaign.
People are sometimes discriminated against by others because they have certain characteristics, so some characteristics, including race, religion and disability are protected by equality legislation so that people can’t be treated unjustly because of them.
Protecting single parents from discrimination is an important first step in improving life for single parent families.
Lone parents with dependent children make up 7.3% of households in Norwich.
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Evidence shows that the children of single parent families are often disadvantaged, with a third of them living in poverty despite their parent being employed.
Many single parents are discriminated against when trying to find housing, in looking for work, and even in the cost of days out and holidays.
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A recent report shows that 80 per cent of single parents have experienced discrimination based on their status as a single parent, and, currently, this unfair treatment cannot be legally challenged.
And that’s without considering damaging media stereotypes about single parents, which impact on the mental health of not only the parents, but also the children raised by them.
The pandemic further discriminated against single parent families. Before social bubbles were introduced, many single parents had no contact with other adults, some managing children and work alone for months.
This was something I experienced first-hand as a single parent during the first lockdown last spring.
Despite Facetime calls with friends and family, chats from my window, and online work meetings, the experience was isolating.
Being finally allowed a bubble with my friend and her family made such a massive difference to me and my kids. This is an experience replicated up and down the country.
In addition, single parents were more likely to be furloughed over the course of the pandemic, increasing job instability.
Juggling work, homeschooling children and everything else has been challenging for all families.
Doing so alone, without the practical or emotional support of a second adult in the home, has put massive pressure on parents.
Making single parenthood a protected characteristic is, of course, only the start of what’s needed.
More funding for childcare would make it easier for parents to work outside of school hours, especially for those who would earn just above the threshold for income-related benefits if they took on extra work.
This should include extra funding for children with special educational needs who cannot access childcare settings without support.
A Universal Basic Income would make it easier for single parents to work by providing a basic level of income, not subject to sanctions or conditions, so that they can look for work that fits around childcare responsibilities.
And flexibility in work matters too.
Businesses increasingly demanding zero-hour contracts and full flexibility from their workers make these jobs inaccessible to single parents who find it harder to work constantly changing shifts; organisations scheduling meetings or events for part-time staff at school pick-up times makes it difficult for them to progress at work.
There are many practical measures that could be taken by government and employers to help single-parent households.
However, something we can all do is celebrate single parents and the extraordinary job they do, often not through choice.
Working and looking after children, providing emotional support for a whole family, perhaps without much support themselves, and doing everything that is generally expected from two people is an incredible feat.
Despite this, the stereotypes about single parents which prevail are mostly negative.
Next time you bump into someone you know to be a single parent, consider the amazing job they’re doing.